INVESTIGATIONS Into GERMANIC MYTHOLOGY “ – Volume 1
by Viktor Rydberg
B. REMINISCENCES IN THE POPULAR TRADITIONS OF THE MIDDLE AGES OF THE HEATHEN MIGRATION SAGA.
What there still remains of migration sagas from the Middle Ages, taken from the saga-treasure of the Teutons themselves, is, unfortunately not much. Among the Franks the stream of national traditions early dried up, at least among the class possessing Latin culture. Among the Longobardians, it fared better and, among them, Christianity was introduced later. Within the scope of Roman history, they appear in the first century after Christ, when Tiberius invaded their boundaries. Tacitus speaks of them with admiration as a small people whose paucity, he says, was balanced by their unity and warlike virtues, which rendered them secure in the midst of the numerous and mighty tribes around them. The Longobardians dwelt at that time in the most northern part of Germany, on the lower Elbe, probably in Luneburg.
Five hundred years later, we find them as rulers in Pannonia, whence they invade Italy. They had then been converted to Christianity. A hundred years after they had become settled in North Italy, one of their Latin scholars wrote a little treatise, De OrigineLongobardorum, which begins in the following manner: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, here begins the oldest history of our Longobardian people. There is an island called Skadan, far in the north. There dwelt many peoples. Among them was a little people called the Vinnilians, and among the Vinnilians was a woman by name Gambara. Gambara had two sons: one by name Ibor, the other named Ajo. She and these sons were the rulers among the Vinnilians. Then it came to pass that the Vandals, with their dukes Ambri and Assi, turned against the Vinnilians, and said to them: ‘Pay ye tribute unto us. If ye will not, then arm yourselves for war!’ Then made answer Ibor and Ajo and their mother Gambara: ‘It is better for us to arm ourselves for war than to pay tribute to the Vandals’. When Ambri and Assi, the dukes of the Vandals, heard this, they addressed themselves to Odin (Godan) with a prayer that he should grant them victory. Odin answered and said: ‘Those whom I first discover at the rising of the sun, to them I shall give victory’. But at the same time Ibor and Ajo, the chiefs of the Vinnilians, and their mother Gambara, addressed themselves to Frigg (Frea), Odin’s wife, beseeching her to assist them. Then Frigg gave the advice that the Vinnilians should set out at the rising of the sun, and that the women should accompany their husbands and arrange their hair so that it should hang like a beard under their chins. When the sky cleared and the sun was about to rise, Frigg, Odin’s wife, went to the couch where her husband was sleeping and directed his face to the east (where the Vinnilians stood), and then she waked him. And as he looked up he saw the Vinnilians, and observed the hair hanging down from the faces of their women. And then he said: ‘What long-beards are they?’ Then said Frigg to Odin: ‘My lord, as you now have named them, you must also give them victory!’ And he gave them victory, so that they, in accordance with his resolve, defended themselves well, and got the upper hand. From that day, the Vinnilians were called Longobardians – that is to say, long-beards. Then the Longobardiansleft their country and came to Golaida, and then they occupied Aldonus, Anthaib, Bainaib, and Burgundaib.”
In the days of Charlemagne the Longobardians got a historian by name Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon), a monk in the convent Monte Cassino, and he was himself a Longobardian by birth. Of the earliest history of his people, he relates the following: The Vinnilians or Longobardians, who ruled successfully in Italy, are of Germanic descent, and came originally from the island Scandinavia. Then he says that he has talked with persons who had been in Scandinavia, and from their reports he gives some facts, from which it is evident that his informants had reference to Scania with its extensive coast of lowlands and shallow water. Then he continues: “When the population on this island had increased beyond the ability of the island to support them, they were divided into three parts, and it was determined by lot which part should emigrate from the native land and seek new homes. The part whose destiny it became to leave their native land chose as their leaders the brothers Ibor and Ajo, who were in the bloom of manhood and were distinguished above the rest. Then they bade farewell to their friends and to their country, and went to seek a land in which they might settle. The mother of these two leaders was called Gambara, who was distinguished among her people for her keen understanding and shrewd advice, and great reliance was placed on her prudence in difficult circumstances.” Paulus makes a digression to discuss many remarkable things to be seen in Scandinavia: the light summer nights and the long winter nights, a maelstrom which in its vortex swallows vessels and sometimes throws them up again, an animal resembling a deer hunted by the neighbors of the Scandinavians, the Scritobinians (the Ski-Finns), and a cave in a rock where seven men in Roman clothes have slept for centuries (see Nos. 79- 81, and No. 94). Then he relates that the Vinnilians left Scandinavia and came to a country called Scoringia, and there was fought the aforementioned battle, in which, thanks to Frigg’s help, the Vinnilians conquered the Vandals, who demanded tribute from them. The story is then told how this occurred, and how the Vinnilians got the name Longobardians in a manner corresponding with the source already quoted, with the one addition, that it was Odin’s custom when he awoke to look out of the window, which was open, to the east toward the rising sun.
Paulus Diaconus finds this Longobardian folksaga ludicrous, not in itself, but because Odin was, in the first place, he says, a man, not a god. In the second place, Odin did not live among the Teutons, but among the Greeks, for he is the same as the one called by the Romans Mercury. In the third place, Odin-Mercury did not live at the time when the Longobardians emigrated from Scandinavia, but much earlier. According to Paulus, there were only five generations between the emigration of the Longobardians and the time of Odoacer.
Thus we find in Paulus Diaconus the ideas in regard to Odin-Mercury which I have already called attention to. Paulus then relates the adventures which happened to the Longobardians after the battle with the Vandals. I shall refer to these adventures later on.
They belong to the Germanic mythology, and reappear in mythic sources (see No. 112), but in a more original from, and as events which took place in the beginning of time in a conflict between the Aesir and Vanir on the one hand, and lower beings on the other hand; lower, indeed, but unavoidable in connection with the well-being of nature and man. This conflict resulted in a terrible winter and consequent famine throughout the North. In this mythological description, we shall find Ajo and Ibor, under whose leadership the Longobardians emigrated, and Hengist, under whom the Saxons landed in Britain. It is proper to show what form the story about the Longobardian emigration had assumed toward the close of the twelfth century in the writings of the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus. The emigration took place, he says, at a time when a Danish king, by name Snö (Snow), ruled, and when there occurred a terrible famine. First, those starving had resolved to kill all the aged and all children, but this awful resolve was not carried out, thanks to a good and wise woman, by name Gambaruc, who advised that a part of the people should emigrate. This was done under the leadership of her sons Aggo and Ebbo. The emigrants came first to Blekingia (Blekinge), then they sailed past Moringia (Möre) and came to Gutland, where they had a contest with the Vandals, and by the aid of the goddess Frigg they won the victory, and got the name Longobardians. From Gutland, they sailed to Rugen, and thence to the German continent, and thus after many adventures they at length became masters of a large part of Italy (Saxo, Book 8). In regard to this account it must be remarked that although it contains many details not found in Paulus Diaconus, still it is the same narrative that has come to Saxo’s knowledge. This Saxo also admits, andappeals to the testimony of Paulus Diaconus. Paulus’ Gambara is Saxo’s Gambaruc; Ajo and Ibor are Aggo and Ebbo. But the Longobardian monk is not Saxo’s only source, and the brothers Aggo and Ebbo, as we shall show, were known to him from purely northern sources, though not as leaders of the Longobardians, but as mythic characters, who are actors in the great winter which Saxo speaks of.
The Longobardian emigration saga – as we find it recorded in the seventh century, and then again in the time of Charlemagne – contains unmistakable internal evidence of having been taken from the people’s own traditions. Proof of this is already the circumstance, that although the Longobardians had been Christians for nearly 200 years when the little book De Origine Longobardorum appeared, still the long-banished divinities, Odin and Frigg, reappear and take part in the events, not as men, but as divine beings, and in a manner thoroughly corresponding with the stories recorded in the North concerning the relations between Odin and his wife. For although this relation was a good and tender one, judging from expressions in the heathen poems of the North (Völuspá 53; Vafþrúðnismál 1-4), and although the queen of heaven, Frigg, seems to have been a good mother in the belief of the Teutons, this does not hinder her from being represented as a wily person, with a will of her own which she knows how to carry out. Even a Norse story tells how Frigg resolves to protect a person whom Odin is not able to help; how she and he have different favorites among men, and vie with each other in bringing greater luck to their favorites.
The story is found in the prose introduction to the poem Grímnismál, an introduction which in more than one respect reminds us of the Longobardian emigration saga. In both, it is mentioned how Odin looks out upon the world from his dwelling and observes what is going on. Odin has a favorite by name Geirrod. Frigg, on the other hand, protects Geirrod’s brother Agnar. The man and wife find fault with each other’s protégés. Frigg remarks about Geirrod, that he is a prince, “stingy with food, so that he lets his guests starve if they are many.” And the story goes on to say that Geirrod, at the secret command of Odin, had pushed the boat in which Agnar was sitting away from shore, and that the boat had gone to sea with Agnar and had not returned.
The story looks like a parable founded on the Longobardian saga, or like one grown in a Christian time out of the same root as the Longobardian story. Geirrod is in reality the name of a giant, and the giant is a being who brings hail and frost in the myth. He dwells in the uttermost North, beyond the mythical Gandvik (Þórsdrápa, 2), and, as a mythical symbol of winter, he corresponds to king Snö in Saxo. His “stinginess of food when too many guests come” seems to point to a lack of food caused by the unfavorable weather, which necessitated emigrations, when the country became overpopulated. Agnar, abandoned to the waves of the sea, is protected, like the Longobardians crossing the sea, by Frigg, and his very name, Agnar, reminds us of the names Aggo, Acho, and Agio, by which Ajo, one of the leaders of the Longobardians, is known. The prose introduction has no original connection with Grímnismál itself, and in the form in which we now have it, it belongs to a Christian age, and is apparently from an author belonging to the same school as those who regarded the giants as the original inhabitants of Scandinavia, and turned winter giants like Jökull, Snær, etc., into historical kings of Norway.
The absolutely positive result of the Longobardian narratives written by Longobardian historians is that the Germanic race to which they belonged considered themselves sprung, not from Troy or Asia, but from an island, situated in the ocean, which washes the northern shores of the Germanic continent, Germany’s northern coast.